Growing up in Cottage Grove, Minn., Sven Sundgaard could play songs on the piano by ear. He learned to play French horn by accident, taking it up in middle school because the teacher wanted a boy in the section.
Then one day in high school, a family friend brought him to St. Paul's Church of St. Agnes, where they heard Mozart's Requiem performed live. He couldn't get enough of the piece, wearing out a cassette tape the friend had recorded off the radio.
His love for classical music has followed him into the days of downloaded music and makes up the majority of his library. He kids about how he could have been a concert pianist, but he's now a well-known meteorologist for KARE 11 and a familiar face about town. You could spot him by one of Minneapolis' lakes nearly any day of the year, ear buds in, often listening to the classical music he has loved longer than any other genre.
"When you're working out, you want something that matches what you're doing," Sundgaard said one sunny June evening by the trail around Bde Maka Ska.
Fitness is very important to him and part of his evening routine. He has run 11 full marathons. For ones where he's allowed music, he jokes about reaching the final stretch and needing only an energy gel pack and some Bach to "remind us we're mortals."
He prefers longer classical pieces to short pop songs, especially when running.
"A classical piece of music kind of starts slow and builds, and it just sort of naturally matches what you're doing," he said. "And maybe it takes a break, just like you do when you are out of breath."
It's formulaic and even mathematical, like meteorology.
His favorite composers run the gamut: Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Verdi and Rachmaninoff all accompany him on runs and in daily life.
"Of course I like Edvard Grieg, being a Norwegian," he added.
He is not the biggest fan of Mozart apart from the Requiem, which remains his favorite to this day.
"It's just super creepy and dark and wakes you up; wakes the soul up," he said. "I don't feel like people often enough listen to an organ in person anymore, and it's pretty. You get chills."
When asked why he likes this kind of music, he connected it to his "bizarre" fascination with the British monarchy. The organ music goes right along with that grandeur and pomp he loves about the royals. But while he takes his interests seriously, he doesn't take himself too seriously.
"Anybody who knows me knows that I'm interesting anyway," he said. "You know, classical music or the obsession with Queen Elizabeth. Because it's not something you'd expect of a 37-year-old Norwegian meteorologist in Minnesota."
He pointed to his running shirt, a muscle tank that read: "We're all a little mad here."
"I'm a weirdo; that's all," he said. "Normal people are boring."
Sundgaard said his family's musical traditions have helped him connect with members of older generations. There's a joke in his family that all the Sundgaard males are whistlers. His grandfather owned a music store in St. Paul and could play every instrument in it, often by ear. He died young and Sven never got to know him, but his parents got a deal on an old player piano, and as a 10-year-old he would pick out tunes on it. When he played the Jurassic Park theme by ear, his parents realized he was a lot like the grandpa he had never met. That's when they enrolled him in piano lessons.
"I can hear a song and be able to have the music actually in my head. So I think there is some odd broken genetic link," he said.
He says he did not start lessons early enough to be that concert pianist. But that didn't affect his love of music, which continues today, from that scratchy Requiem tape to CDs his parents bought him on his birthday, to sweat- — and organ music- — filled runs around the lakes.
Sven Sundgaard's classical running favorites
Sven Sundgaard doesn't use a playlist per se, but here are some of his favorite classical pieces to listen to while running:
• Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, by Johann Sebastian Bach
• Grand Choeur Dialogué, by Eugène Gigout (Empire Brass version)
• Prelude & Fugue in G major, by Bach
• Rigaudon, by André Campra (Empire Brass version)
• Symphony No. 3, by Camille Saint-Saëns
• Requiem, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart